Secret Military Cross-Border Talks Make No Progress

      October 16, 2014 09:52

      Military brass from the two Koreas held talks behind closed doors at the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday but made no progress on any of the topics under discussion.

      North Korea could get no traction on the question of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border, or activists' launch of propaganda leaflets across the border, while South Korea got no closer to persuading the North to apologize for the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.

      The North again demanded a "peace zone" around the NLL, an issue floated in 2007 by then president Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il that came to nothing, a government official here said.

      The South Korean delegates insisted the NLL must remain in place.

      The fruitless talks lasted from 10 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. "The two sides were sincere in the talks, determined to improve relations, but in the end failed to narrow the gap in opinions."

      The South Korean delegation was headed by Ryu Je-seung, the Defense Ministry's deputy minister of national policy. The North Korean delegation was represented by Gen. Kim Yong-chol, the director of the General Reconnaissance Bureau. Kim is believed to have masterminded the sinking of the Cheonan. 

      This is the first inter-Korean encounter between high-ranking officers since December 2007. Lower-ranking officers from the two sides met in February 2011.

      Ryu Je-seung, a deputy defense minister, shakes hands with Kim Yong-chol, director of North Korea's General Reconnaissance Bureau during inter-Korean talks at the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday. /Courtesy of the Defense Ministry

      The North Koreans demanded that South Korean ships respect the North's "maritime patrol line," which runs further south than the NLL, that South Korean civilians stop floating balloons carrying propaganda leaflets across the border, and that the South Korean press stop "slandering" the regime.

      The South Korean delegates pointed out that South Korea is a democracy where the government cannot tell civilians and the press how to behave.

      The two sides failed to agree a date for a next round of talks.

      The government kept mum about the talks until they ended, apparently at the North's insistence.

      That flies in the face of the government's pledge to be more transparent in its dealings with North Korea than previous administrations.

      When asked about the talks in a regular press briefing on Wednesday morning, the Unification Ministry only said that it is very important to realize there is "another side" in inter-Korean relations.

      Only after the talks came to their fruitless close did the Defense Ministry make an announcement.

      "The North has called for secrecy in all recent talks," a military officer said. "When it sent a letter earlier this week after the two sides exchanged fire over propaganda balloons, it also asked for it to be kept secret."

      But there is speculation that the two sides agreed to hold Wednesday's talks behind closed doors because their agenda included emotive issues.

      In February, Seoul rejected the North's request to keep high-level talks secret from the press.

      "If inter-Korean talks are held in secret, many people might say that the government has abruptly changed its position toward the North," a government official said.

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